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How a Cold Blanket Can Save a Newborn’s Life

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Pregnancy related image Photo: Getty Images

Usually when a baby in the United States is being born everything goes well, although anyone who has been through it knows it’s a significant medical event and can be “exciting” in the last few minutes.

Sometimes that “excitement” leads to a determination that an emergency cesarean section (C-section) delivery is necessary to protect the life of the baby and perhaps also the mom.

One area of concern is when the baby’s heart rate decelerates in utero after contractions. This can deprive the baby of oxygen which can lead to permanent brain damage, disability, or death.

Now progress is being made to limit brain damage in even some of the sickest newborns.

Recently I interviewed Kelsey Dimitropoulos, who lives in Orangevale, California near Sacramento. Three years ago she was in a community hospital giving birth to her first child, Luke. The doctor was busy doing a C-section on another patient.

Meanwhile Luke, in utero, seemed to be struggling. When he was delivered -- by emergency C-section -- it seemed it was too late. He was lifeless -- not breathing, no heartbeat.

But 15 minutes of attempting to revive him worked. Luke, however, was in terrible shape and it was very possible he wouldn’t survive or that his brain damage was severe.

In the last couple of years an approach has emerged that has been seen as a true breakthrough -- if the baby can be cooled for an extended time then brain damage can be limited and a child’s adaptable brain might find ways to cope with damage that can’t be reversed.

The good news for Kelsey and little Luke is that Kelsey’s obstetrician knew about this approach and cooling was quickly started. But the little boy needed much more specialized care -- and fast.

He was rushed to one of our top university medical centers, UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. At this center they have one of the only neurological neonatal intensive care units where pediatric neurologists and neonatal doctors work together to save the brains of babies like Luke.

Their approach was to wrap Luke in a cold blanket for three days. They call it hypothermia.

It worked! While Luke was in intensive care for many weeks, not only has he survived, he has recouped and thrived. At this point he appears to be developing normally and he walks and talks like any toddler.

You can meet Kelsey (and Luke) and hear our discussion about hypothermia for newborns with their doctor, Sonia Bonifacio, neonatologist at UCSF, in this Patient Power program -- Preventing Brain Damage in Newborns -- at http://www.patientpower.info/program/preventing-brain-damage-in-newborns/

After decades without progress in helping these struggling newborns, Dr. Bonifacio says hypothermia has been a revolutionary development. And that gives every mother hope that even if things go wrong in childbirth sometimes there’s a way to make them “right.”

About the author: Andrew Schorr is a medical journalist, cancer survivor and founder of Patient Power, a one-of-a-kind company bringing in-depth information to patients with cancer and chronic illness. Audio and video programs, plus transcripts, help patients make informed decisions to support their health in partnership with their medical team.

Patient Power is at www.PatientPower.info and on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Schorr is also the author of “The Web Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis" found at www.websavvypatient.com/


Interview with Sonia Bonifacio, M.D., Neonatologist, UCSF Medical Center and Kelsey Dimitropoulos, mother to hypothermia treatment patient, recorded 1/24/12 and posted at

Reviewed February 10, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment3 Comments

Thank you for getting our story out there Andrew! It's so nice to share it with other people and let them know what's available and how well it works! It was great talking to you! Thank you again!

February 10, 2012 - 11:03am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Kelsey Dimitropoulos)

My pleasure, Kelsey! Thanks for sharing your story to help others.

February 10, 2012 - 11:23am
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you for getting our story out there Andrew! It's so nice to share it with other people and let them know what's available and how well it works! It was great talking to you! Thank you again!

February 10, 2012 - 11:01am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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